Mets Head Home After Lead Turns to Colossal Collapse

Tom Glavine walked out of the New York Mets' quiet clubhouse, stopping for a few handshakes as several teammates packed their belongings.

If this was the final start of his brilliant career, the memory will be miserable.

The Mets are headed home early this year following a colossal collapse — and it will be an especially troubling winter. After blowing a big September lead in the NL East, they missed the playoffs Sunday when Glavine was tagged for seven runs during the first inning of a season-ending 8-1 loss to the Florida Marlins.

"It's something that's going to take a while for us to get over," Glavine said.

New York's defeat coupled with Philadelphia's 6-1 win over Washington gave the division title to the Phillies and left the stunned Mets wondering how they squandered a seven-game cushion over the final 18 days of an excruciating season.

Now, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez and the rest of this talented team will forever be remembered alongside the 1964 Phillies and other famous failures for skidding to one of baseball's most monumental collapses.

"It's tough because you don't get too many of these opportunities and you can't let them slip away," Carlos Delgado said, a cast already on his left hand after it was broken when he was hit by a pitch from Dontrelle Willis in the first inning.

No major league team had owned a lead of seven games or more with 17 to play and failed to finish in first place. New York, which had that margin on Sept. 12, matched the largest lead blown in September. The 1934 New York Giants (Sept. 6) and 1938 Pittsburgh Pirates (Sept. 1) also led by seven games in the final month.

"I know I don't want to experience it again," Wright said. "It's going to be a long offseason."

A win Sunday not only would have kept the Mets even with Philadelphia and forced a one-game playoff for the division title, it would have tied them with Colorado and San Diego for the wild card. So they would have had two ways to reach the postseason.

Instead, the Mets are out after going 1-6 on their season-ending homestand.

"Everyone's definitely numb," Shawn Green said. "To say disappointed would be the understatement of the year."

Philadelphia swept a three-game series at Shea Stadium from Sept. 14-16, giving the Phillies wins in the final eight meetings between the teams. That started a slide from which the Mets never recovered.

Doomed by inadequate starting pitching and a leaky, exhausted bullpen, New York dropped 12 of its last 17 games, committing 21 errors in the process. The Mets' ERA during the slide was 5.96, third-worst in the majors over that span.

"The harder we pushed, the worse it got," closer Billy Wagner said as he packed a bag at his locker.

When Luis Castillo struck out and ended New York's latest lackluster defeat against a second-division club, it prompted one last round of boos at Shea Stadium.

Moments later, the final in Philadelphia was posted on the out-of-town scoreboard and Mets fans shuffled toward the exits, quietly muttering to themselves.

"We're devastated, also," manager Willie Randolph said. "It's just a tough life lesson in baseball."

It was one of the darkest days for a franchise that prided itself on late-season comebacks in 1969, 1973 and in the 1986 World Series against Boston. Last year, the Mets advanced to Game 7 of the NL championship series before losing to St. Louis.

With this season on the line, Glavine put the Mets in a huge hole Sunday. The 300-game winner was chased after getting only one out, charged with all seven of Florida's early runs. He made a throwing error and hit Willis with a pitch with the bases loaded, mistakes that symbolized the Mets' late meltdown.

"It's going to be a sad day for everybody at Shea," said Florida's Cody Ross, who hit a two-run double.

The seven runs matched the most Glavine (13-8) allowed in an inning during his 21 years in the majors, the Elias Sports Bureau said. He also gave up seven to Colorado in 1996. It also was the second-shortest start of his career — and perhaps his last.

The 41-year-old left-hander is contemplating retirement, or he might choose to pitch elsewhere next season. Glavine, also roughed up in a 10-9 loss to Washington last Tuesday, has a $13 million player option for next year with a $3 million buyout.

"I want to go home and figure out what I want to do," he said. "I'm disappointed. It's not the way I wanted to pitch."